Philadelphia officially recognizes cyclists as a constituency deserving special protection. This week, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the creation of a “Complete Streets Commissioner,” a new position in city government to oversee the creation of more bike-friendly infrastructure. But the story gets complicated from there.
Historically, Kenney is not the most ardent supporter of “complete streets,” a term coined by the National Complete Streets Coalition to describe roads harmoniously designed for cyclists, pedestrians, public transportation users, and cars. In 2009, as a City Council member, Kenney introduced legislation to up fines for headphone-wearing bike riders. His co-legislators are not too enthused about bikes, either: The same City Council gave itself veto power over proposed bike lanes in 2012.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia lead the creation of the commissioner position. According to Philadelphia Magazine, the Bicycle Coalition organized a mayoral forum for Democratic candidates, where each would-be mayor claimed to support “Vision Zero” objectives. The group issued a platform last year during election season, outlining reforms needed to make safer streets.
Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition, maintains that “creating a commissioner who is thinking about and looking at all transportation modes, and how to make them safer and work better for everyone, that is new. And what that signals is that there is a dedicated, high-ranking official who is assigned the responsibilities to marshall citywide resources and set policy toward the goal of making Philadelphia’s streets safer for everyone.”
Why isn’t Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation & Utilities assuming these responsibilities? In a shift towards a “strong-managing-director form of government,” Kenney is simultaneously creating the Complete Streets Commissioner position while closing the Office of Transportation & Utilities. Clarena Tolson, the Deputy Managing Director of Transportation & Infrastructure, will continue to oversee street maintenance, water, some of the complete streets program, as well as synchronize operations of the Philadelphia Energy Authority and SEPTA.
There’s no word yet on the application process. Urbanists, keep your ears peeled.